Paratrooper Uniforms and Equipment
Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII

This pair of paratroopers "landed" at the 2007 Military Expo at Fort Snelling. Representing the 82nd Airborne, they wear their M1943 jump uniforms with painted camouflage common to the D-Day pathfinders who dropped ahead of the main forces and set up landing zones.

The weapons and gear include a number of items that were mainstays of the paratroop corps: the shoulder-holstered .45, the M1A1 carbine with the folding skeleton stock, the M3 trench knife with the M8 scabbard, the M36 mussette bag and the handie-talkie.

The lieutenant, wearing an OD knit skull cap, demonstrated his M1A1 Thompson submachine gun. An M1 Garand sits on the table. Both weapons have canvas bags.

This distinctive M1942 paratrooper uniform was adopted in December 1941. After the airdrops in the Mediterranean, it was decided that the uniforms needed additional alterations to make them more useful for the Normandy air drops. To make the uniforms more resilient, they were turned over to parachute riggers, who used spare canvas to sew knee and elbow patches. Pockets were removed from the tunic and trousers and canvas gussets were stitched between pockets and the surface of the uniform. This enabled the pockets to expand significantly and hold additional ammo or rations. The riggers sewed straps to the inseams of the trousers, which the paratrooper tied over the enlarged thigh pockets to help secure their contents in place. Because of the large number of paratroopers, the riggers did not have time to reinforce all of the uniforms. So you can see a mix of reinforced and unaltered M1942s in D-Day photos.

Also, there was a fear that the Germans might launch chemical attacks, so the invasion uniforms for paratroopers and leg infantry were soaked in a solution designed to repel any gas or chemicals the Germans might use. Glider troops wore standard infantry uniforms.

The M1942 uniform was used in August, 1944 by paratroopers in the First Airborne Task Force in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France. But for Operation Market Garden, the Army desired to ease production requirements and set a standard uniform for both leg infantry and airborne, the M1943 olive drab tunic and trousers. The canvas gaiters and combat shoes were replace with the combat service boot with the integral leather gaiter secured with two buckled straps.

Most paratroopers made the transition. Some retained their Corcoran jump boots because they felt they gave more ankle support and there were fears that the buckles on the combat service boots might get snagged in parachute lines or gear. There was also pride factor at play: the paratroopers loved their unique status as an "elite" corps of soldiers and the most visible distinction was their uniform. Some paratroopers held onto their reserve set of M1942s; some appear in photos during the Battle of the Bulge.



Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII © 2002—2007 Timothy S. Streeter